The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 7 | Summary



Henry Fleming is surprised to learn his regiment won the battle; he feels like he has been caught in a crime. He tries to rationalize his actions; as one piece of the army, it was his duty to save himself in the face of certain annihilation; that way, the generals could piece the army back together with individual pieces to make a new whole. Because his plan was strategic and has followed "correct and commendable rules," he thinks he was correct in running away.

Not only does Henry feel bitterness against his comrades, he also feels like he is "the enlightened man" with "superior perceptions and knowledge." Henry fears the derision of his fellow soldiers when he returns to camp and begins to pity himself as being misunderstood by his ignorant comrades. Guiltily, he walks into the woods farther away from the fighting. He is cheered up when he considers that by running away he has followed the laws of nature. Entering a small, chapel-like clearing in the woods, Henry comes face to face with a dead man; frightened, he runs away.


Henry enters an internal psychological battle trying to justify whether or not he did the right thing by fleeing. He convinces himself that he was strategic in his flight—preserving himself so the officers can rebuild the regiment with survivors—and therefore made a rational and wise decision.

Nature again plays a role: seeing the squirrel flee in the face of danger, Henry decides he was just following the laws of nature in his flight for survival. However, coming face to face with the dead soldier in the grove frightens him and causes him to flee again; Henry cannot face the living enemy, his living comrades whom he fears will mock him, or the dead soldier, who to Henry seems aware of his betrayal. The image of the woods as a chapel creates religious associations with Henry's conflict. The church of nature, where a dead man has been laid to rest, suggests that Henry must sooner or later face the inevitability of death.

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